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Genesis of a Historical Novel

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

becoming a citizen again

The sky had filled with cloud again by sunrise, as though some great pale-plumaged dove had sat on the city. With a forecast of more snow by afternoon, I hustled out in the morning to get filtered water (the "boil water" advisory for Vancouver is now gone, and people are not jamming the stores for water) and groceries. I wanted to start up the car in any case, to keep it ready to go in the freezing weather. Sure enough: tiny flakes fall quickly and vertically out my office window right now.

Stepping out the door into subzero air is evocative of other times and places: I have flashes of being at Gampo Abbey, or in Switzerland. Even with the heat turned up, the house is cold. My hands are cold as I type (mind you, I just had a lie-down in the bedroom where the thermostat is turned down to 10°).

Another book has just arrived: it's still cold from lying in its box out on the front porch. The book is Nuclear Renaissance by W. J. Nuttall, an examination of the technologies and policy issues around nuclear power. It is recommended by James Lovelock in his The Revenge of Gaia. It's an expensive hardback, but I was able to get a lower-priced new copy from A-1 Books in New Jersey via Abebooks.com.

I wanted to look into the question of nuclear power more closely, since Lovelock believes strongly that we--all of us humans on Earth--need to throw as much effort as possible, as soon as possible, into converting to nuclear energy, the only source that is technologically ready to wean us off carbon in the short term. Since, like most environmentalists, I have had a long-standing aversion to nuclear power, this is a change of direction. Lovelock's arguments in favor of it are strong and rational. He believes that the arguments against nuclear power are mainly irrational, and play upon our fear (in the West) of cancer--a disease that 1/3 of us will die of in any case, regardless of what we do, eat, or breathe.

So it's part of my effort to become educated about the things that matter in the world--the most important political and social topics that I can focus on. I have long held that environmental issues are at or near the top of the list of priorities for humans worldwide, but Lovelock's book has given that feeling a new fillip. Even though I've long been keen on science, I have never been very interested in nuclear technology, mainly because I disapproved of it and wanted it gone. Now I have a reason to learn more, and have the scientific aptitude to be able to read and understand this type of material.

Two other--used--books arrived in the mail two days ago. These also were recommendations of Lovelock's: The Self-Organizing Universe by Erich Jantsch, and The Earth System by Kump, Kasting, and Crane. The former is a 1980 text on the new science of self-organizing systems (including living systems, such as us); the latter is a textbook on the emerging field of "earth systems science"--the way earth, atmosphere, water, and living things interact. (I understand I was lucky to find the Jantsch book for only about $16. It is an out-of-print book that apparently many people want to get their hands on. The next-cheapest copy at Abebooks.com was about $68, as I recall. I think my seller in Port Townsend, Washington, didn't realize what he had. But he offered and I accepted.) These too are part of my current push to become better informed about a topic that will quickly, I believe, start to dominate all levels of political discussion.

So: the writer is starting to think of himself as a citizen once again--a world citizen, a concerned citizen, nay, a worried citizen.


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